Dayara Bugyal – a picturesque getaway – Part 2

Part 1

As I heard the birds chirp in the surroundings, I pulled myself out of the sleeping bag, juggled along to make some way and unzipped the front of the tent to peep outside. A mild brightness spread across the sky just enough to mark the outlines of the mountains. I gradually came out of the tent. The chill was strong but enjoyable. After putting a quick glance around, I headed towards the nearby bushes with a bottle of water in my hand. After brushing my teeth as soon as I splashed water on my face, it felt like prickles from a thousand needles. After that, I went to the tent to wake up others. They cuddled in their sleeping bags enjoying their sleep that came very late last night due to unaccustomed surroundings. I let them continue with their sleep for some more time as the day’s walk was not supposed to be long (as per our guide Arvind, it was only about 1.5-2 hours). I took my camera and ventured around for some photography. The sky started to light up with the bright sun rays falling on the Mountain peaks of the Bhagirathi range. But these places don’t offer golden views of sunrise as the sun rises from behind the mountains. Finally, the entire meadow bathed in bright sunshine. So was Mt Bandarpoonch.

Mt Bandarpoonch

I woke up my wife and daughter. I had to push them to come out, but once they did, they felt much better in the bright sunshine. They got themselves prepared, which basically meant brushing the teeth and answering nature’s calls. Bathing was out of question. We went inside the shepherd hut behind the tent, which acted as the kitchen and breakfast was served. A couple of parathas with hot tea provided the much needed warmth.

After breakfast, it was time to strap the backpacks and hit the trail. The route moved through the meadow to ascend gradually into the forests along the higher slopes. We entered the woods and once again we were walking under the canopy. The slope was gradual and walking was easy. Now that she got used to it, my daughter too, wasn’t complaining. The bright sun rays of the morning trickled through the canopy and played hide and seek along the tracks which traversed through the woods. A breeze kept flowing with a mild chill (which is normal in the autumn season in these parts of the Himalayas). Winters were knocking at the doors.

En route Dayara Bugyal

I had a look at the trail ahead. Our guide Arvind pointed towards the top of the hill we were ascending. There, just beyond the tree line, lay our destination. It didn’t seem very far. The plan was to reach there by noon, have our lunch and spend sometime settling in our tents and then head off towards the adulating meadows of Dayara Bugyal.

As the trail moved up the slope, the forest started thinning out. The intensity of solar rays increased with reduction of the canopy cover and so did the heat, though it wasn’t at the levels as felt the day before during the afternoon. Partly because it was morning and partly because we got used to the trail, the members felt better.

During the trek, I kept comparing the facilities available in Nepal with the Himalayas in India. There, in Nepal, one can expect to find a well managed tea house throughout the route, even in places as high as Gorakshep, which is just shy of the Everest Base Camp. At the Annapurna Base Camp trekking route, one can even stay at a tea house. But here, in Garhwal Himalayas, even in routes like Dayara Bugyal which fare nowhere in terms of remoteness or altitude, one has to be content with staying at tents. In a way, it is good as it doesn’t impact nature or its resources as much as it does in well frequented routes of Nepal. Proximity and accessibility brings its own set of drawbacks to quiet abodes of nature. The route, by now was devoid of any forest as we crossed the tree line. The peaks of the Bhagirathi range was visible on the horizon and so was Mt Bandarpoonch.

After a few more steps, we could see the shepherd huts and we knew we had reached our destination. We sat there to have some rest. Arvind gave us mugs of steaming hot tea, which was so refreshing for our tired bodies. The porters already started to erect our tents. They were being erected on a lower ground, just where the slope from the huts descended to. The hut was to act as kitchen and the place of stay for the porters and guide Arvind. They wasted no time and got started with preparing the lunch.

Shepherd huts, Dayara Bugyal

The place where we our tents were put up, was just before the start of the seemingly endless adulating meadows of the Dayara Bugyal. They chose this place because of proximity to streams of water, which is a crucial factor in determining places of halt. Lunch got served quite early. After that we settled in our tents for sometime to have some rest but Arvind reminded us to head for the bugyal in the afternoon with enough sunlight to enjoy. So, despite our desire to rest for some more time, we heeded to his calls and went out for the meadows. Beyond the huts, the path moved up gradually and took a turn around the bend. As we turned around the corner, endless slopes of adulating fields greeted us. As if the surrounding forests were making their advances from lower hills to cover these tops, but came to a halt suddenly to give way to endless grasslands which form the favorite pastures for herds of sheep and goats of the villagers.

Dayara Bugyal

These high altitude meadows of the Himalayas often are self-contained ecosystems and are homes to many endemic species (i.e. species that are found only in specific meadows and nowhere else). Right after winters and before the monsoon, these meadows get covered with numerous flowers with varied colors. One cannot move around in these fields without stepping on the floral beds. Hence, the forest departments take care to protect these species and their habitat. Increasing number of tourists and camping on these grounds often cause danger to the survival of these species, which, if not protected, will become extinct. Ever increasing human activities and related deforestation and cultivation have cut out the connection between these meadows and most of the species housed by them are not found elsewhere.

Dayara Bugyal

We roamed around the fields aimlessly, taking a look at the surroundings. This wasn’t the time of flowers, but the meadows, nevertheless, were picturesque. The afternoon rays of sun glorified the fields. The slopes went down on one side leading to the forests, beyond which, lay the gorge of The Ganges. The hills on the other side of the river moved up till they gave way to the snow peaks of the Bhagirathi range.

Dayara Bugyal

The entire meadow was devoid of any sound, beyond the reach of any modern civilization and its allied fallacies. I climbed up the slopes of some of the hillocks to get views from different angles. Though it wasn’t the time of the year when flowers bloom in these meadows, I could still see some remnants with some peeping out from the grasses.

Dayara Bugyal

The solar rays changed their angles and so did their colors, which started to play their part on the distant snow peaks. Gradually, shadows started to move along the long distant fields of the Dayara Bugyal giving an indication that the sun was about to exit the sky.

Dayara Bugyal

Arvind showed me the trail that moved up towards Bakharia top, our destination for the next morning before we head down towards Barnala. The extent of the meadows seemed endless. He talked about a trekking route wherein one can traverse the Bugyal and descend towards Yamnotri. Another variation of that route can take one to Dodi taal and further ahead, to Yamunotri. There are numerous trekking routes in these parts of the Himalayas, some of them even cut across the watershed between the Ganges and the Baspa river to descend into Chitkul of the Sangla valley in the neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh. While I was chatting with Arvind, my wife and daughter started feeling the chill of the evening winds as the sun was fading out fast. I urged them to move ahead towards the huts. As they moved along, I trained my lenses on the peaks to capture sunset views.

Herds of sheep started to come down one of the slopes towards the huts. They were returning after enjoying a full day of grazing on the distant meadows. As they crammed to move into the huts, their bleats of different pitches coming from animals of varying age groups filled the skies. They hopped around and over the rocks and uneven slopes to move ahead. Two strong dogs kept a strict vigil on the group ensuring the herd sticks together.

Mt Bandarpoonch at sunset, Dayara Bugyal

The peaks acquired a tinge of yellow, which successively turned golden, crimson and finally all white after the sun bowed down.

Sunset, Dayara Bugyal

As I came back to the huts, I saw my wife and daughter enjoying the bonfire that had been lit up by the porters. I was welcomed with a steaming mug of tea. The chill in the air was significant which prompted all of us to subside into the huts. One has to bend the back considerably to be able to get a passage inside. The cooks were already into their act preparing for the night’s dinner. Some lentils were being prepared over a burning earthen oven. We sat beside it. The warmth from the oven gave us comfort. After dinner, we headed to our tents. On this second night in the tents, it felt less uncomfortable as we got used to it. Since it was only 7 PM, we spent sometime playing ludo using our headlight torches. Sleep was peaceful as there wasn’t any dog to move around.

As I ventured out of the tent, next morning, a dazzling Mt Bandarpoonch gave a hearty welcome. After breakfast, I headed towards the meadows once again while rest of the family moved down along with the support staff towards Barnala, an hour and a half of walk down the slopes. We took the turn around the same bend and then started moving up the slopes. It was a different route that moved up and down the hillocks. The meadows were bathing in bright sunshine and the lush green fields resembled a freshly laid carpet.

The bugyal was at its best in the bright sunny morning. As we moved ahead, my walk got increasingly interspersed by small flowers that peeped out of the lush green fields and I took time to focus my lenses on them.

Dayara Bugyal

The flowers were so small yet so beautiful. It was a tough time to get still snaps as they continued to shiver in the chilling morning breeze.

After going a long way, I realized that the Bakharia top was still far away. A quick look at my watch prompted me to turn around. The further we go, the more we’d have to traverse on our way back and the day’s target was to descend to Barnala. So we headed back.

Barnala

As we started our descent beyond Dayara Bugyal, forests made their reappearance and once again, we were walking under canopy cover. After walking for about an hour, we came to a small lake with a temple beside it. By the looks of it, I recognized it to be Barnala (thanks to the pictures from the internet). But I couldn’t see any trace of either the porters or my family. Arvind walked up the nearby hillock to have a look at the valley below and he recognized their location at once. I glanced a look beyond his shoulders down into the valley and I could see them too. The mules grazed around and the porters got engaged with work. My daughter was roaming around freely in the small patch of ground. But all of that was a silent film that was being played out at a distant place down in the valley with no sounds reaching us. We continued our descent and finally reached there. Our tent was already erected. It was picturesque setup with tent almost lying in the middle of no where. Dense forests surrounded the entire place.

Camp site, Barnala

After lunch, we roamed around the place. Fresh breeze running through the pine forests carried their fragrance to us. It was leisure that was written all around. But that was for us as the porters and cooks were constantly engaged. After lunch, they got started with preparations of evening tea and snacks. They promised to treat us with fried onions and potatoes along with the evening tea. While it lifted our spirits immediately, it wasn’t an easy task to provide such comforts at these places. Materials and rations for all that gets served at these altitudes, have to be carried all along from the towns below. They either need to be carried on backs of mules or by porters all the way up.

Barnala

We roamed around freely and enjoyed the views at our disposal. The peaks of the Bhagirathi range were visible through the gaps between the otherwise thick pine forests. Another herd of sheep and goats made their way down the slopes from the meadows above. They raised the same symphony of bleats of different pitches. The rusty shepherds and their sturdy dogs kept tight vigil on the herd.

Barnala

As the herd made their way through the forests into the lower villages, evening wore on with the familiar shades of color being played out on the distant snow peaks resulting in yet another colorful sunset.

Sunset, Barnala

We couldn’t remove our eyes from the colorful play on the distant peaks. Darkness covered the forests nearby but the sun was still lightening up the peaks on the northern horizon.

After darkness came upon, we moved towards our tents. Bonfire was already setup and our cooks handed out cups of hot teas accompanied by fried onions and potatoes. We enjoyed the treat thoroughly in the chilling atmosphere. While they went back to prepare the dinner, we went inside our tent. The tent had almost transformed into our small home away from home. We had worked out how to sit and arrange ourselves in the small space available. While we were playing ludo, I heard sounds of water droplets on the roof of the tent. Before long, it started raining intensely. Just as we were thinking about how we could go to the kitchen tent for our dinner amidst heavy rains, we heard sounds outside our tent and saw lights. The cooks and the porters came up to our tent with our dinner. I was simply spellbound by their hospitality in these harsh conditions. They braved the downpour in the chilling night to serve our dinner right at our doorstep. That night we went to sleep with not just peace, but respect for the large hearts that these poor and simple people possess.

 Part 1

Dayara Bugyal – a picturesque getaway – Part 1

Part-2

Ever since I started my ventures in Nepal, I had the challenge to maintain a proper balance between family trips & trekking. The latter normally didn’t involve family members. The Diwali break was coming up & I planned to use it judiciously. Most of my Himalayan getaways started with long weekends. But over the last ten years, most of the common hill stations of Uttarakhand & Himachal have been covered. Also, over these years I’ve preferred to stay away from common destinations as their accessibility has led to their “downfall”. Swarm of travelers flock to these places leading to massive build up of hotels & deforestation. Traffic snarls are very common in places like Manali, Simla or Nainital. Some years ago, I’ve tried my hands with shot treks with family. It started with a hike to Chopta from the picturesque Deoriatal through the woods of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. I thought about exploring that option once again. This was in November 2017, a year ago before Annapurna happened. While scouting for options of easy to moderate grade treks, I came across “Dayara Bugyal”. It’s in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand. The accounts available on internet seemed to suggest that it easy, often done with family. I reached out to my contacts (guides whom I knew) in other parts of Uttarakhand & at the same time my search continued on internet. Finally, I came across Balbir Singh Negi. Discussions continued with him. Finally, an itinerary was drawn up. We were to start from Dehradun. A vehicle was to take us to the town of Uttarkashi. The next day would see us hiking up to Raithal, our first halt. The next day would take us to Dayara Bugyal, a high altitude meadow in the upper Himalayas. We’d camp there for a night & then come down via a different route via Barnala. We still had two additional days at our disposal & we thought to spend them at Harsil, a beautiful hill station before Gangotri. I booked the GMVN rest house at Harsil & the railway tickets to Haridwar. Later, based on Balbir Ji’s advice, I changed them to Dehradun. That would save us about 2 hours of travel.

Ever since I started my ventures in Nepal, I had the challenge to maintain a proper balance between family trips & trekking. The latter normally didn’t involve family members. The Diwali break was coming up & I planned to use it judiciously. Most of my Himalayan getaways started with long weekends. But over the last ten years, most of the common hill stations of Uttarakhand & Himachal have been covered. Also, over these years I’ve preferred to stay away from common destinations as their accessibility has led to their “downfall”. Swarm of travelers flock to these places leading to massive build up of hotels & deforestation. Traffic snarls are very common in places like Manali, Simla or Nainital. Some years ago, I’ve tried my hands with shot treks with family. It started with a hike to Chopta from the picturesque Deoriatal through the woods of the Kedarnath wildlife sanctuary. I thought about exploring that option once again. This was in November 2017, a year ago before Annapurna happened. While scouting for options of easy to moderate grade treks, I came across “Dayara Bugyal”. It’s in the Uttarkashi district of the state of Uttarakhand. The accounts available on internet seemed to suggest that it easy, often done with family. I reached out to my contacts (guides whom I knew) in other parts of Uttarakhand & at the same time my search continued on internet. Finally, I came across Balbir Singh Negi. Discussions continued with him. Finally, an itinerary was drawn up. We were to start from Dehradun. A vehicle was to take us to the town of Uttarkashi. The next day would see us hiking up to Raithal, our first halt. The next day would take us to Dayara Bugyal, a high altitude meadow in the upper Himalayas. We’d camp there for a night & then come down via a different route via Barnala. We still had two additional days at our disposal & we thought to spend them at Harsil, a beautiful hill station before Gangotri. I booked the GMVN rest house at Harsil & the railway tickets to Haridwar. Later, based on Balbir Ji’s advice, I changed them to Dehradun. That would save us about 2 hours of travel.

On the day, Mussourie Express was running late. After leaving Haridwar it moved on gradually through the dense forests of Rajaji National Park. The solar rays made their way through the dense canopy of the forests. At some places it was even dark during the day. I’ve traveled this section many times before but it never fails to fascinate. Phases of dense forests are interspersed by river beds & streams which came down the slopes of the Shivalik hills that are visible on the horizon. Finally, the train reached Dehradun station about 3 hours late. It was 12 PM. Though I enjoyed the journey, but at the station I felt we were robbed off at least 2 hours. We could have reached our destination by noon, but it will be at least afternoon. We boarded the vehicle which started it’s journey from the railway station.

At first it struggled to make it’s way through the crowded streets of Dehradun, but as it hit the Mussourie road, the ride was smooth. This section of the road was familiar to me as I’ve traveled in this region on multiple occasions. On one occasion we drove to Mussourie all the way from Noida. That was the first time I drove on the mountain roads. It was a thrilling experience but I didn’t enjoy the traffic snarls at Mussourie. Places like Kempty falls near Mussourie are now notorious for long queue of vehicles, thanks to the weekend rush from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana and other areas of the plains. The vehicle moved up the road that winds itself along the mountain slopes. After a few bends, houses of Mussourie started to appear. Fortunately, the road still has some forest cover and concrete hasn’t quite swallowed the forests to the extent it as done in other hill stations. But Mussourie is known for the pomp and show of its hotels. As salaries increased, so did the living standards and the allied expectations of comforts of urban life. With increase in accessibility to hill stations like Mussourie, more and more people flocked towards them on long weekends. With them, they carried their ever-increasing expectations from modern urban life. The tourism industry hoped to cash in on this by attempting to meet them. Little did they or the governments and local authorities realize that these places cannot sustain such demands, not at least by keeping their serenity intact. This is a harsh truth faced by almost all the areas of the Himalayas which has become more accessible due to increased connectivity. Mussourie, for example, was a place known to receive snowfalls regularly. However, over the years, uncontrolled constructions has seen it losing a large section of its forest cover and today, in some years, winters go by without any snowfall. Fans and air conditioners are common in the hotels and lodges there, which people never had to install earlier. But, with some of the territories earmarked under forest department, Mussourie has been able to put some check to uncontrolled urbanization and fares a little better than places like Simla.

The vehicle meandered around the serpentine roads of Mussourie town. It kept off the Mall road and followed the streets that took us through the cantonment area and we came out of the Town to hit the road that goes towards Dhanaulti. It was a short cut through the town, avoiding the crowded tourist areas. We kept moving till we reached a junction. At the junction, one road goes ahead towards Dhanaulti. But we took the left turn that is headed towards Uttarkashi. It was now going down down the slopes through the forests. This is a relatively new section of road that connects Dehradun, Mussourie to the road leading to Uttarkashi and Gangotri. The road took us to the banks of the Tehri dam reservoir, a large dam built on the Ganges, causing much disbalance in the local ecosystem. The rising waters of the reservoir drowned the old town of Tehri and it had to be relocated to higher reaches of the hills as “New Tehri”. The vehicle moved along the banks to reach Chiniyalisaur, an important junction town on the route. It is here, the road from Haridwar and Rishikesh joins the Gangotri road. It is also where a different road takes pilgrims and tourists towards Yamunotri, another important pilgrimage site which is also one of the famous “Char Dhams” of the state of Uttarakhand. After Chiniyalisaur, the road went by the banks of the Ganges, a pattern to be followed for rest of the trip. It was our first view of the river on this route and here it appeared no different than any other river in the mountains, making its way down the rocky and bumpy slopes of boulders through the gorges. Gradually, we passed the town of Uttarkashi, the district headquarters and reached Gangori (not to be confused with Gangotri). Balbir Singh met us at a nearby market and boarded the vehicle, which left the Gangotri highway to move up the slopes of a narrow road. This is the route that goes towards the famous Doditaal lake. The vehicle took us to a place where paved road ends. Beyond this, it is a trekking route to Doditaal and beyond. We disembarked here and headed up towards our place of stay, the Kaflon camp.

Kaflon

The Kaflon camp is located in a valley surrounded by high hills on all sides. They have a few tents set up with comfortable beds and attached toilets. The lawn in front bathed in bright afternoon sun. We were greeted with lemon juice by the staff at the camp. As we were shown the tent, it lifted our spirits. The tent had a proper bed, was very clean, airy and there was enough sunlight in it.

At the camp, Kaflon

We had the entire afternoon at our disposal, at least 2-3 hours of bright sunshine to bask in. However, a quick conversation with the camp staff revealed that sunshine doesn’t stay that long in this camp, thanks to the high mountains that surrounds the place. They are also the reason due to which sunlight reaches late in the valley in the morning. Nevertheless, we still had sometime and we sat on the chairs to enjoy the afternoon. Tea was served with delicious onion fries (pakodas, as they call it, in this part of the world). We sipped the warm tea and the pakodas played a perfect match.

Kaflon

As evening wore on, the chill increased and we subsided to out tent and after dinner at 7 PM, we slid under the blankets. After chatting for sometime, sleep overran us.

The next morning, when we were served breakfast and tea, it was already 8 AM, but the sunlight was yet to reach the valley. Balbir Singh came over to meet us along with his son Arvind, who’d be our guide on this trek. We left some of our luggage at the camp and carried just the essentials along. We walked down the trail and reached the road head, where a vehicle was waiting to carry us to Raithal, the point where our trekking was to start from. The jeep moved down the road to reach Gangori, where rations and supplies were loaded (raw materials for food, cooking utensils, tents, sleeping bags, matrices, kerosene and other equipment). A drive of two hours took us to Raithal, where we were surprised to find a GMVN tourist rest house. Had I known about it before, we could have halted here instead of Kaflon. That could have saved us sometime. Nevertheless, we started our hike at about 11 AM. It was a bit hot, but a nice cool breeze gave us some comfort after we started. The initial route went amidst the houses and the fields of the Raithal village.

En-route Goyee

The route was paved with stones, but over a period of time, it has worn out, but it was still a well laid trail that zig-zagged upwards. We couldn’t keep our jackets on for long. So, we had to fasten them around our hips to give us some comfort while walking. My daughter and wife were faring well. It was just the start and there was some way to reach our camp. The distance wasn’t anything compared to what we’re accustomed to during treks of a higher grade. The walk for the day wasn’t likely to exceed 4 kms, whereas 8-10 or even 15 kms a day is quite normal in treks. Clouds stayed clear off the sky where we could see the peaks of the Bhairathi range of the Garhwal Himalayas.

After crossing the Raithal village, we entered the woods that covered the route right up to the top where Dayara Bugyal lay. That gave us some respite from the blazing sun, whose rays were intense even in this time of the year when winter was knocking the doors.

As the gradient increased, breathing became harder and halts increased for my daughter. They increased to a point where I had to intervene and take her along with me instead of letting her progress on her own pace. Though we had time at our disposal, but it had to be kept under control. At her age, one cannot expect the urgency and maturity that is required for treks. I urged her to look around in the surroundings where, on the horizon, Mt Bandarpoonch was visible in clear sky.

Mt Bandarpoonch

After sometime, guide Arvind handed over the packed lunches to us. We had our lunch at one of the bends, chapatis and sabzi (curry). I didn’t have much appetite and confined myself to minimum. After lunch, its always difficult to regain the momentum to walk but we got into our grooves again. The rays of sun acquired a tinge of yellow as afternoon wore on. My daughter became increasingly impatient , but the camp was nowhere to be seen.

We dragged on for another hour till we reached a point where we could see our tents at Goee, our place of halt for the day. The tents were in front of a shepherd hut, which was to serve as the kitchen fr the night. It was a small meadow spread out on the laps of the hills that led to Dayara Bugyal. Sun was preparing to leave the stage.

Mt Bandarpoonch, Goee

Shadows gained grounds quickly, but the peaks beyond the distant hills still bathed in the afternoon sun. My years spent earlier in the laps of the Himalayas told me the time was ripe for the sunset colors to play our their drama over the snow clad peaks. The yellow tinge of the solar rays acquired intensity and then crimson came in the mix. Mt Bandarpoonch was the nearest and largest visible from the camp.

Mt Bandarpoonch at sunset, Goee

We were handed our evening tea. I kept my focus on the distant mountains where the sunset scene was being played out. The entire Bhagirathi-Gangotri range turned crimson in the fading rays of sun.

Bhagirathi range at sunset, Goee

The guides and porters set up camp fire with the help of twigs collected from the nearby forest. We spent time sipping our evening tea and warming our hands till the fire died out. As soon as it was dark, dinner got served, after which, we subsided to our tent. The tent proved inadequate for two adults and a kid. There wasn’t enough space to turn around, especially with the sleeping bags, which I never felt comfortable with. Silence engulfed the place with only strange sounds coming from nearby forests. My daughter kept asking whether tigers or leopards were a common occurrence in the surrounding forests. She went crazy with sounds around the tent which came from a stray dog which was roaming around and finally as he slept with his back against the wall of the tent, my wife got the jitters as she was leaning against the other side. But, we soon got used to it and the rest of the night was peaceful.

Part-2

The Mystic valley – Part 3

Part 2

The downpour that started previous afternoon, continued through the night and there were no signs of it abating in the morning. Our plan for the day was to go up to Hemkund Sahib, come down to Ghangria and then go all the way down to Govindghat to board a jeep for Joshimath. All that travel was to be done on backs of ponies. That was the only option for us if we were to board the train from Haridwar the next night. It sounded like an uphill task and incessant rains gave fodder to some members to contemplate dropping the idea of visiting Hemkund Sahib. The pony owners too, had that suspicion and they kept confirming with us time and again to ensure we didn’t drop the plan. Finally, we went ahead. All of us, wrapped in our rain coats, boarded the ponies (something which I always dread) and embarked on our journey.

Soon we reached the junction where the trail for the valley turned left, but we plodded upwards. Streams of rainwater kept flowing along the route and the ponies splashed along with their dogged steps. At many places, they used their own judgment to traverse the route diagonally to evade muddy potholes that were made slippery by their own excreta. Both the daughters were perched on the backs of their respective ponies, wrapped and fastened by ropes, the ends of which were held by the man who was responsible to drag these animals up the trail. The bends kept increasing as we gained heights. Numerous streams came down the slopes fed by the monsoons. Every now and then, the hooves of the ponies skid and we were continuously on our toes.

IMG_4402

Forests on the lower reaches started to fade out and gave way to bushes. Slopes of the mountains were covered by green grass. Yellow dots started to appear among them and they increased in number with height. We realized that these were Brahma Kamal flowers, something which can only be seen in these high altitude regions of the Himalayas. They were not seen even in the valley yesterday, but here they were abundant.

Amidst all the excitement, the weather was biting cold and winds lashed making us shiver to our bones. My daughter’s patience dried up and she started crying. Finally, we saw the huge rocks and a few shelters on the distant horizon way up on the route. A faint tune of religious citations reached our years amidst the sound of the heavy downpour & the flowing streams. That told us, we were nearing our destination. When we finally reached there and off boarded the ponies, it took some time for our bodies to straighten up.

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Hemkund Sahib

The volunteers of the gurdwara greeted us with warm cups of tea, kheer and khichdi. These were being served super hot from the huge containers where they were being prepared. One could consume as much as they could. The lake was surrounded by high mountain peaks on all sides but their tops were cut off by overhanging clouds.

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Hemkund Sahib

The slopes nearby were covered with dense bushes with big Brahma Kamal flowers jutting out from them. It was one of the primary reasons (at least for me) to visit the shrine as there aren’t many places in the Himalayas where you get to see them. That too, can only be seen in these monsoon months.

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Many of the pilgrims were taking a bath at the lake braving the cold as it is considered holy to do so. We were overwhelmed by the surroundings and the warmth of the service the volunteers provided but time was ticking. So, once again we boarded the ponies, which carried us down the watery slopes to Ghangria. We recollected our luggage and set out for Govindghat, again on the backs of ponies. We reached there finally at about 5.30 in the evening and boarded the jeep for Joshimath. A long cherished dream finally materialized.

Part 2

The Mystic valley – Part 2

Part 1

Part 3

It rained heavily for almost entire night but we woke up to a bright sunny morning, the next day. When we walked out of our lodge after breakfast, the streets of Ghangria were abuzz with tourists and ponies. Batches of people were heading off for their respective destinations, some for Hemkund Sahib, some for the valley while the rest headed down towards Govindghat. We gradually started off on foot from the lodge. The trail meandered through the clumsy alleys of Ghangria till we reached beyond the hutments of the main town of Ghangria. After crossing a pool over the stream and a few stair cases after that, we reached a junction. One trail turned towards left, which headed to the valley while another plodded upwards along the slopes towards the distant shrine of Hemkund Sahib. We turned left and came across a gate. It was here we had to purchase tickets to enter the valley.

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Ghangria

I walked along with my daughter while rest of the group followed behind, each walking at their own pace. It was a narrow trail but the slope wasn’t high, at least to start with. The Pushpawati river gushed down the valley beside the trail. The sun was still shining bright and it’s rays pierced through the tall pine forests. Tiny flowers of different colors already started to appear beside the trail, though we were told that we still had about 3.5 km to reach the valley.

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On the way to the valley

We were elated with those sights. If this is the start, then what waits us in the valley! The good thing was that rain wasn’t playing spoil sport though we were prepared for it come down at us anytime. After sometime, the trail gradually moved downwards till it reached a small pool over the river Pushpawati. Here it was coming down with tremendous force between the walls of the high mountain walls that surrounded it.

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River Pushpawati

We stopped on the bridge to take some pictures. The trail beyond the bridge moved upwards along the slopes on mountains on the other side. I was a bit wary about my daughter. Yesterday, we had the luxury of a pony, which won’t be available today. People carrying baskets on their backs to carry the kids enquired us if a lift was needed for my daughter and I kept denying. They tried to paint the trail ahead to be steep and tiring enough to merit a pony ride. I insisted on making my daughter tread on her feet, but at the same time, was worried if such requests start playing on her mind. The desperation from the basket owners rose from their need to earn for their families. This was the only time of the year where tourists come to the valley – a span of just 2-3 months as for the rest of the year, flowers dry out as snow takes its place.

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Purple Roscoe Lily

The trail was well paved out, but it started gaining steepness as we crossed successive bends. We had to stop frequently as my daughter demanded rest with sips of water to gulp down her throat. But the woods on both sides provided flowers galore.

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Sunflower

Some tourists passed by on the backs of basket carriers. I was amazed to see that even adults strode their backs. The carriers bent their backs, while the persons on their backs were almost in a sleeping posture with their eyes fixed upwards towards the sky. The whole sight made me uncomfortable and I could never be comfortable in that posture while plodding these uphill slopes, leaving aside the thoughts about the effects my weight could bring upon the carriers.

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On the way to the valley

As it was sunny, I started to sweat and so did my daughter. She insisted on removing her raincoat which was weighing heavily on her but I knew that the weather could change within a span of minutes and if rains came, she would start shivering. So I kept ignoring her requests but stopped frequently for rest.

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Geranium

After sometime the breeze became cool as the sun went behind the clouds. Walking now became comfortable but it started to drizzle as well.

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On the way to the valley

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On the way to valley

The trail now came out of the woods and we could across the meadows on both sides of the trail. We were convinced now that we were at the gates of the valley.

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The gateway to the valley

The meadows stretched wide and the slopes of the mountains wore a fresh look with lush green vegetation.

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The meadows

Strong winds blew across the meadows that raised waves among the bushes that wore a carpet of booming flowers.

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Impatiens Sulcata

Some of the slopes were painted with purple, while the others were sprinkled with white. Clouds hovered above the surrounding mountains and all of their tops appeared cut off by them.

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The slopes of the valley

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The slopes of the valley

By this time, the intensity of the rains increased. We crossed the river Pushpawati once again by walking over a small plank of wood which vibrated heavily when one crossed over it and it allowed only a single person cross at a time. The river was thundering down the slopes underneath it.

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On way to the valley

I crossed it over with my daughter and waited on the other side for my wife.

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mother and daughter

By the time we reached the other side of it, rains came down heavily and we reached under the shelter of a huge slanted rock. While it rained heavily outside, we had our lunch (which we carried along in our back packs). We wanted to venture further into the valley, but looking at the intensity of the rains and thinking about the path that we had to traverse to get down to Ghangria, we changed our minds and headed back. When we crossed the river Pushpawati once again before Ghangria, the volume of water had increased visibly. After crossing the river, the rest of the trail was easy and we reached back to Ghangria by afternoon. Rains poured down consistently throughout that night. That gave us some worries for the next day when we were to set out for Hemkund Sahib.

Part 1

Part 3

The Mystic valley – Part 1

Part 2

The sun was shining bright as we traveled along the serpentine roads of the familiar Garhwal Himalayas. I was recounting the number of times I’ve traveled through these roads via the familiar places of Rishikesh, Byasi, Devprayag, Srinagar and Rudraprayag. I almost knew what to expect after every bend of the road. After Rudraprayag, our vehicle continued with the National Highway 58, which is the well-known road that leads to the distant shrine of Badrinath. The fact that the sun was shining bright was a pleasant surprise given the time of the year. It was the month of August, the peak of monsoons in this part of the world and our destination for the day was the distant town of Joshimath. We were on our way to visit the Valley of flowers, one of the most unusual valleys nestled in the deep corners of the Himalayas.

Way back in 1931, the British mountaineers Frank S. Smythe, Eric Shipton and R. L. Holdsworth were returning from their successful expedition of Mt Kamet. They were looking for a short route to the town of Badrinath. They lost their way in their quest and landed up on a beautiful valley full of Alpine flowers and were mesmerized by its beauty. That’s the valley we know today as the “Valley of flowers”.

A long cherished dream was about to materialize. We’ve planned for it many times, but it never happened. The last unsuccessful attempt was in the year 2013 when it was literally washed away by the devastating floods of Garhwal. Even this time, things were quite uncertain as we were following the monsoon patterns over last few days. Some of my friends of the mountains advised not to go ahead due to incessant rains that lashed the slopes of the hills causing landslides almost everywhere. We went ahead ignoring their advise with our fingers crossed being well aware that such incidents can result in delays of several days. Throughout our route, we crossed areas with broken roads dotted by boulders and stones which had come down the slopes but fortunately, it wasn’t raining. It took sometime to find out the GMVN rest house amidst the main market of Joshimath. After the formalities, we were allotted a family suite and a double room. Six of us (our and my sister in law’s family) stayed at the family suite while my father in law went to the other. Clouds started gathering in the evening and by night it was pouring down heavily. That added to my worries as we were to start our actual trek the next morning. But that’s expected in this time of the year. However, the skies fell on me when I chanced upon the dates of our return tickets. We were to return by the Nanda Devi express from Haridwar. It departs from there at 12.55 AM, which means it falls on the next day going by the English calendar. However, I booked the tickets on a woefully wrong assumption of it falling in the night of the same day. How could I make such a blunder and it’s not just me, but an entire group of seven people who were to suffer. For all practical purposes, a full day had been wiped out of our itinerary. We contemplated other options but nothing worked out.

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Joshimath

The next morning when we started off for Govindghat, it was still pouring down heavily. The road out of Joshimath moved beyond the cantonment areas and we were moving down the slopes till we reached near the river bed of Alakananda. As we crossed it at Vishnuprayag, it bore a ferocious look with gallons of water thundering down the gorge threatening to engulf anything that comes in its way. The vehicle left us at Govindghat and a local jeep carried us another 2-3 km to the start of the trek route. Fortunately, by that time, the rain reduced to a drizzle and sun was about to peep out from the clouds.

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On the way to Ghangria

After handing over most of our luggage to a porter, we started off on foot for the village of Ghangria which was 12 km ahead. The trail went through lush green valleys with forests jumping into life after receiving nourishment from the monsoons. Streams danced their way through the boulder strewn beds. Waterfalls came down the slopes in milk-white streams amidst lush green forests. It was joy everywhere in the nature and we enjoyed walking amidst the cool air brushing our faces. Our kids too enjoyed walking the trail in company of each other. As we moved along, the trail gained in steepness gradually and the bends increased. Soon our group dispersed, separated from one another by their respective pace and as in many other trails, I soon found myself alone with the Himalayas. It happens so often that you’re with yourself, accessing your own limitations, planning and taking decisions on your own and no one else other than yourself being responsible for your actions and their outcome. That’s what mountains teach you on its hidden trails.

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On way to Ghangria

Halfway through our trail, at about 2 PM, we stopped by the village of Bhuindar to have our lunch. As we had our food, the drizzle made a come back and so did our worries. Not everyone in our group had the same pace and if rains came on now, it would prove difficult for them to reach the destination within the safe bounds of daylight, which was fading fast now. After lunch, we reached the confluence of Bhuindar Ganga and Laxman Ganga, the latter coming down the slopes from the holy shrine of Hemkund Sahib.

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Bhuindar village

After crossing a bridge at the confluence, the trail moved up the slopes in steep gains in altitudes while the number and sharpness of the bends increased. We heard that the entire route to Ghangria from this point was going to be an uphill climb. By this time, I and Ranjan da (my brother-in-law) were walking together with our respective kids, who now started showing signs of impatience and tiredness. After every bend they would ask how far was the destination and the frequency of such questions increased as the uphill trail started taking a toll on their bodies and minds. Our wives were trailing behind and we couldn’t even see them in the vicinity. Horses and mules were plying up and down the routes and they asked if we were interested in taking a lift. So far we’ve resisted the temptation, but as evening bore on, day light started fading and the intensity of rains increased, my daughter started crying relentlessly with no signs of the mothers. We still had to find a place to stay after reaching Ghangria and we didn’t know how far ahead it was. It was at this point, I relented to the call of a horse owner and hired one to carry along my daughter for the rest of the route.

But every toil has an end and so did ours when we finally reached Ghangria. I was relieved to find my daughter sitting on a chair. The horse owner apprised me that she was crying incessantly and only stopped once she saw me entering the village. Contrary to the popular belief, it was challenging to find a hotel as it turned out the village was bustling with tourists even in this raging monsoons. Even after we found a room and placed our luggage inside, there were still no signs of the mothers. I went back a few km down the trail to get a glimpse of them. After a very long wait, they finally arrived on backs of ponies and I was relieved to see good reason prevailing on their part in their decision to hire ponies to reach on time. We were too tired and were quick to resign to beds after dinner that night. The valley of flowers awaits us tomorrow!

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Part 2

In the region of Mt Trishul – Gwaldam

In the year 2004, we repeated a mistake, which was to visit the Kumaon hills (this time it was the forests of Binsar) in the summers. Well, on the face it, there was nothing wrong in it as hills are a natural destination to escape from the scorching heat of the plains. But as explained in one of my earlier posts here, summers aren’t the right time to visit if you’re looking for clear views of the mighty Himalayan peaks and Binsar was no exception to that. We did enjoy our escapade in the KMVN lodge right in the mid of Binsar forests, but the peaks eluded us. On the previous occasion, it was in March, and for some reason (can’t remember it now), I thought April might be better but it was not to be. That made me make a pledge to never ever visit Kumaon hills in the summers. Henceforth, all our subsequent visits have been in autumn or winters.

The same year, in the month of October, we made a plan to visit Binsar once again but added another destination to our list, Gwaldam. Geographically, the place falls in the Chamoli district of the Garhwal Himalayas, but the shortest route to it from the plains was from the railhead Haldwani through the roads of the Kumaon region. Unlike our last visit, this time we had the families of my sister-in-law and parents-in-law accompanying us. On one fine morning, we got down from the Ranikhet express on the platform of Haldwani at about 6 AM. The train was about an hour late but we still had time. After all, we were only to travel till Binsar which was about 4-5 hours away from there. After negotiations, we boarded a vehicle and started off. The trail went through the familiar places of Bhimtaal, Bhowali, Almora and finally to the junction from where we had to leave the main Almora road to turn into the one that led to the forests of Binsar hills. After paying the fees for forest permit, we were allowed to enter what was not really a road but a narrow stretch laid with levelled stones.

After lunch at the KMVN tourist rest house, we went on to the terrace which was open from all sides with the view of the majestic Himalayan peaks basking in the afternoon sun. We enjoyed the warmth. My sister-in-law and parents-in-law were excited by the sights (it was their first time to have such close views of the Himalayas). Later, as evening bore on, we were served tea along with pakodas. We spent almost the entire day out on the terrace. Once it was dark, we went to our rooms and candles were provided since Binsar doesn’t have electricity. This is something we enjoy, but to some others it acts as a deterrent to visit the place. Personally, I enjoy it and don’t quite understand why people can’t get over their luxuries in the hills. At least we’re not depleting that much of natural resources during these days, regardless of how insignificant it may be. The chill in the air made the hot chapattis and curry that much more delicious at the dinner.

The Himalayas frustrated us the next day as clouds played spoilsport. We couldn’t afford to wait as we just had a couple of hours at our disposal before heading off to Gwaldam. It would be a 4-5 hours drive and we wanted to reach there before sunset. So, we started off after breakfast and throughout the route I kept an eye on the distant views to see if clouds gave way to clarity. We went through the lower reaches of Kausani and as we turned for Gwaldam, the sun rays started to change their colors but clouds still held the sway. We could see the huge mass of clouds on the northern horizon which was actually shielding Mt Trishul from making an appearance. We could sense how near it was, but couldn’t see it yet. The GMVN rest house at Gwaldam was located picturesquely, but wore a shabby outlook because of poor maintenance. However, we made ourselves comfortable in the rooms allocated to us and came out in the lawn. The clouds were painted with orange and yellow in the lights of the afternoon sun. We all wished they cleared up.

Elders say it you pray for something honestly enough, God answers your call. At least nature heeded to our calls that day. Suddenly, we saw golden outlines making their appearance behind the cracks which started to spread across the body of the clouds. Gradually they all dispersed and the mighty Trishul made it’s appearance before us. This was a totally different angle from where we were seeing it. We could see all the three peaks (which gave it’s name) from the front. In all its earlier appearances from Chaukori, Kausani or even Binsar, all the three fell in one vertical line. The sun was spraying its fading colors across the entire Trishul massif which was colored with orange with a tinge of red.

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Trishul at sunset – Gwaldam

The next morning, we woke up to a clear sky with clouds nowhere in the vicinity. Trishul and its neighbour Nandaghunti were right in front of us, clearly visible from the GMVN lawn. The sun was gradually making its presence felt. Just the edges of the three peaks of Trishul were lightened by rays of the rising sun and not it’s entire body. That made it’s name sound it even more obvious.

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Trishul at sunrise – Gwaldam

The entire day was at our disposal and skies were clear. So, after breakfast and morning showers, we thought of roaming around with leisure through the streets of this quiet Himalayan town. Gwaldam is on the route of a road that connects Kausani to Karnaprayag, a town on the main highway from Badrinath to Haridwar. There is a PWD bungalow somewhat down the road to Karnaprayag. As in other places, this too, was at a picturesque location. The bungalow was nestled high on the hills with a pond in front of it. Trishul and Nandaghunti formed an exquisite backdrop with their images in the water of the pond. It came across as a picture postcard.

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PWD bungalow – Gwaldam

By this time, it was already 9 AM and the sun was out in its full glory and so was Trishul, which now basked in the sun. It was an unusual day when the clouds never came in the ways of the mountain views. Normally, views are clear early in the morning or in the evening (if one’s lucky, then both). But, usually, after 9.30-10 AM in the morning, as the intensity of the sun increases, clouds start forming and by noon, the peaks are no more to be seen. But on that day, the peaks were clearly visible throughout the day in their full glory.

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Mt Trishul – Gwaldam

As we roamed around, the landscape around us changed from large pine trees, to terraced fields with serpentine roads moving through the woods but one thing was constant above all on the northern horizon, Mt Trishul and its peer Mt Nandaghunti. They were visible from all corners of Gwaldam, no matter where one was.

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Beyond the fields – Gwaldam

That was a day that will remain in our memories for a long time. We spent the entire day lazily walking amidst the streets and fields of Gwaldam. Afternoon once again started to cast its spell on the rays of sun as their colors started to turn yellow to golden and orange and finally to red.

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Sunset – Gwaldam

A few km ahead of Gwaldam lay the town of Lohajung, the base camp for one of the most popular treks in the Himalayas. The trek to the mysterious ‘skeletal’ lake Roopkund. From Lohajung, it takes about 4 days to reach this glacial lake, which lies at the lap of the Trishul massif. The lake has it’s banks dotted with numerous human skeletal remains. No one knows who were the persons who met their fate possibly hundreds of years ago and where they came from. There are mythological stories about these that rings bells amongst the locals. Above Roopkund, lies the Junargali pass. After crossing it, one can reach another glacial lake Homekund that lies at the base of Nandaghunti. Trishul and Nandaghunti are worshipped as Gods amongst the locals and every 12 years, a huge band of locals go on a pilgrimage to these places. This pilgrimage is called “Nanda yatra” .A Himalayan four horned sheep is taken along with the procession. Rituals and offerings take place. The procession goes up to Homekund, which is where the sheep is freed with ornaments and food to wander in the remote regions as a sacrifice to the mountain Goddess Nanda Devi. These remote villages in the Himalayas are filled with curious traditions that runs through centuries and attracts people from all over the world. May be, someday, I’ll heed their calls too.

To the zenith – the panorama of Chandrashila – Part 2

Part 1

There’s nothing like waking up on a bright sunny morning and that too in a forest. Birds chirped all around. When we came out of our tent, we were greeted with a chilling breeze that was much colder than what we found at Deoriatal. It was evident, we were at a greater height. After regular morning duties and a breakfast with parathas, we left the tents. The rest of the crew were to follow us later after dismantling the tents. They would overtake us in between and reach the destination earlier to get the place ready for our stay. Heera Singh, the guide, stayed back and was to guide us through the forests. It took sometime for him to find the way out amidst the dense forest and we followed his footsteps.

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After yesterday’s rest, our legs were fresh in the morning. We then came out into a sprawling meadow. It was the Vanagher Bugyal, the place where we were supposed to camp yesterday. It is a wide open place with peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas peeping out of the horizon. While we rested there for sometime, our crew overtook us along with the ponies. We followed after sometime. At the end of the meadow, forests started again and we were on our descent down the slopes of the hill. It was a zig-zag trail of steps made out of rocks and soil. We had to be careful as they were steep. We kept going down till we reached the banks of a stream that flowed through the gorge between the surrounding mountains. Just as we reached there, our crew (who already reached there before) started off with their journey to our destination for the day. Heera Singh stayed behind to serve lunch to us. What a place to have lunch! We sat on boulders beside the stream with trees forming a canopy above our head. The cool breeze that flowed through the leaves removed the tiredness from our bodies.

The trail after lunch was going to be tough. Firstly, it’s always difficult to walk after lunch and secondly, the entire trail was a steep ascent. We crossed the stream by placing our steps carefully on the rocks spread across it and reached the other side and started our ascent. We were moving up at snail’s pace. We would ascend a few steps, breathe a few mouthfuls, take a few steps again only to stop to breathe. My daughter got bored with the process and started to show her resistance and then came to a halt. Me and my wife persuaded her firstly with calm words, then bribed her with the prospect of rest “just a few steps ahead” and finally scolded her for the behavior. It was one of the acts which I regret to this day. After all she was on this trail not by her own choice, but thrust by us (more specifically, by me). Finally, she resumed her journey but for that I had to involve in a constant conversation with her to keep her mind away from toil. That had a surprising effect on her mind and body. She started walking with a rejuvenated spirit and I was bombarded with numerous questions about almost everything under the sun. I tried my best to answer them. It wasn’t easy to speak while I was ascending the slopes, but she showed no signs of tiredness and the barrage of questions kept coming at me.

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Martoli Bugyal

We kept hiking and after sometime the steepness decreased somewhat and we came in the midst of a grassland, the Martoli bugyal. It was spread for miles along the slopes of the mountains we were hiking. The fields were bathing in the bright afternoon sun. The slopes started to get steep once again and gradually we entered a land of loose boulders that dotted the uneven slopes. We had to walk over them carefully as they were skiddy. As I looked up to see how far the shepherd hut was (where we were headed), I could see the trace of a trail that embraced the distant hills like a snake. Guides confirmed that it was, as I guessed, the trail to Tunganath from Chopta.  But our place of halt, Bhujgali, was still a long way ahead. I saw one of the members of the crew coming down the slopes with two ponies. Anindita was getting tired and the pony provided a welcome break to her. She and my daughter ascended on the ponies which were to carry them for the rest of the day’s journey. As my daughter rode the pony, she was wrapped around by the jacket of Anindita that fastened her to the saddle to provide extra protection against a potential fall.

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As they rode away on the ponies, I followed on foot and after considerable amount of time, found myself crossing the boundaries erected by rocks that formed the fences around the shepherd hut, our destination for the day. We finally reached Bhujgali. By that time, our crew had already installed the tents. The sun was already preparing to go down the horizon. The skies turned crimson and the surrounding oak and pine forests too bathed in those colors.

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Bhujgali

The tent was pitched along a gradual slope and as in the evening before, our crew stayed at the adjoining shepherd hut. I requested them to erect one more tent as it was very clumsy in a single tent and they obliged. Evening was approaching fast and after the sun slid behind the distant hills, temperature plummeted. It was late November. The doors of the Tunganath temple were already closed by that time of the year and the lord resided in his winter abode at Mukumath. The next day was to be the culmination of our trek and was  the toughest. We woke up early in the morning at 4 AM. It was pitch dark outside. We were given head torches. Me and my wife started the ascent to Tunganath. My daughter lay asleep at the tent with some of the crew members to take care of her. We carried a bottle of water each. Anindita rode a pony, but I preferred to walk. We were accompanied by the guide and the person who managed the ponies. In the beginning, we plodded up together but soon I found myself walking alone as the pony strode ahead. The ascent was steep and so, my pace was slow. I constantly kept an eye on the skies to watch out for daylight. Our target was to reach Chandrashila, about 1.5 km above Tunganath temple, to witness the sunrise. As I gained height, I had to breathe hard and sip water more frequently. It wasn’t comfortable at all to gulp down cold water in this shivering cold, but that was my best bet to keep Oxygen flowing through my blood vessels in order to keep going.
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As I saw the top of the Tunganath temple after a bend around the corner, first rays of sun gradually started to light the skies. Anindita was already there and we didn’t loose time at the temple and instantly started off for Chandrashila which was still 1.5 km uphill from there. The trail (or should I say a narrow strip of foot marks) zig-zag-ed up with frequent and sharp bends. Very soon, it ceased to be a trail and we had to ascend by placing our steps carefully on loosely scattered boulders which were rendered slippery by the last night’s dew which froze to a white powdery mass. Anindita was moving carefully and she relied heavily on the guide Heera Singh. By that time, the peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas had started to wear their crowns of gold.

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Garhwal Himalayas – Chandrashila

I found the Chandrashila top to be a small flat space and almost the entire Garhwal hills and the villages and settlements were below us. As I turned my head gradually and completed a 360 degree circle, I found myself surrounded all around by the mighty peaks of Kumaon and Garhwal regions. The sun was popping up from behind the peaks of the Kumaon Himalayas and showered its rays on the ones from the Garhwal region. As I turned anti clockwise, I was greeted with magnificent views of Nanda Devi, Trishul, NandaGhunti, the mighty Chaukhamba, Mandani, Kedar Dome, Kedarnath and many others stretching up to the peaks of the Gangotri region. Chaukhamba was almost just a stone’s throw away.

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Chaukhamba – Chandrashila

Our toil was rewarded handsomely by nature and all tiredness were swept away by the views that Chandrashila had in store for us. I opened my bottle to sip water and suddenly I felt the pricks of a few cold needles in my throat. I saw the bottle and found small needle like icicles floating in the water. A bottle of warm water provided to me by our crew at the start of the trek in the morning, had ultimately, in this biting cold, transformed itself into a viscous mixture of water with frozen icicles.

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Tunganath

On our way down from Chandrashila, though I was careful on the slippery rocks, I tumbled at least twice on their skiddy surfaces. We prayed a brief visit to the closed shrine of Tunganath and headed down to Bhujgali, where our daughter greeted us with anxious eyes looking for her parents who absconded her on a cold wintery morning. After gobbling down a few spoons of noodles, we headed down to Chopta and then to Sari.

Part 1